The Fylde Coast is famous for its golden sandy beaches, promenades, piers and of course its famous tower, which dominates the skyline. Blackpool Tower – a half size copy of the Eiffel Tower – was completed way back in 1894, but golf at St Annes Old Links Golf Club was first played years before the tower had even reached the drawing board.
Running parallel with each other, the 10th and 18th holes at St Annes Old Links are all that now remains of the original Lytham and St Annes Golf Club. The spread of late Victorian home building forced the Lytham and St Annes club to relocate to the southern side of the bustling seaside town, now the esteemed home of the Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club. But, with great foresight, a number of keen golfers came together in 1901 to re-establish a course on the vacant site. George Lowe, the club’s first professional, laid out the original nine holes and, nine years later, Sandy Herd extended the course to eighteen holes.
St Annes Old Links is a challenging layout and it has been used for numerous championships, including Open Qualifying in conjunction with Royal Lytham & St Annes. The course is flat, windswept and stark where little other than a few twisted trees survive the fierce westerly winds. This pure links course is a certainly a challenge and the best holes are to be found on the southern edge, nearest the clubhouse.
The 9th is the most famous hole at St Annes Old Links with its long green, which is hardly visible from the tee. According to reports, Bobby Jones took detailed measurements of this hole, called “Cannon”, when playing here during the 1926 Open. Perhaps a similar hole is in play somewhere in America?
There are three links courses in and around Lytham St Annes. Royal Lytham and St Annes needs no introduction, but if you include St Annes Old Links alongside Fairhaven and its Royal neighbour, then you will have played them all.
Over the years I have played SAOL many many times and after a 2 year break I re-visited the course to play it straight after final open qualifying. For me the course is a good strong test, and certainly in the intervening period since my last visit there has been clever planning to use the rough too define and shape the fairways on a relatively flat piece of links land. The greens were as good as anything I have putted on this year and overall the course is a good test. My favourite hole is the tough par 3 16th with its unturned saucer of a green and protected by clever pot bunkers and needs to be treated carefully before the 2 final closing par 5s.
Cheerless is one word I’d use to describe SAOL. Too many parallel holes run broadly in a north south direction making the going unpleasantly tough when the prevailing wind is blowing across the course. The monotony of the up and down routing is unfortunately only broken up by the par threes at the 3rd, 13th, and 16th.
The 9th “Cannon” is a wonderful par three, of course, facing back at the clubhouse, set in a dune-cloaked amphitheatre, and so is “Keepers Trap” the brutal west-facing par three 16th with its crowned and well-bunkered greensite. Both these one shot holes would grace any Open Championship links course, but sadly there’s not a lot else here that tickles my fancy.
Invariably in good condition, SAOL does play firm and fast, which I enjoy, but its unremarkable, flat canvas, flanked by a main road, a railway line, houses, an airport and the backdrop of Blackpool’s garish Pleasure Beach to the north, does nothing whatsoever for my personal sensibility.
Many wax lyrically about SAOL and draw a comparison with its illustrious regal neighbour. In my opinion, the contrast between the two is marked. Both these links courses have drab suburban surroundings and both are laid out on flat ground. But that’s where the comparison ends. If SAOL had a fraction of RL&SA’s elegant shaping it might deserve to be in the discussion.
Despite being a links lover, the main reason I’m not enamoured by SAOL is largely down to the incongruous mounds that masquerade as miniature dunes. In many cases these humps look like they were dropped off by a truck and then grassed over without any thought to shaping. Put simply, they look artificial.
However, if you enjoy being tested on a tough, windy and well-presented links course, then SAOL will tick those boxes. And the two aforementioned par threes are stellar and more than worthy of the modest entrance fee.
Whilst always a firm favourite of mine, especially having been the GM back in 2007, I just had to leave a review after visiting St Anne’s Old Links GC today for the first time in a number of years.
Given the time of year and the amount of rain we have had recently, I felt I just had to sing the praises of the course. Playing with a colleague from Manchester we were both constantly and pleasantly surprised by the overall condition we found the course presented in.
The general appearance of the course, given we were heading for winter, was really good and tidy. As to the playing conditions, whilst there were a few temporary tees, notable on the par 3's, the competition tees were in excellent condition. The fairways were dry and the greens, for the time of year, were fantastic, running true with really good pace. Even the bunkers in play were in great condition.
Made me remember how fortunate the members of links courses are at this time of year.
One of the key reasons for the visit however was to see the forced changes to the 4th hole as the Club look to reduce the risk of errant tee shots finding the gardens of the houses backing onto the course. I was pleased to see that some subtle planting to the front right of the teeing area together with new bunkering down the left and lateral movement of the left hand side fairway mound, have all created a "safer" line off the tee without detracting from the overall strength of what I always found was a tough par 4.
The welcome from Jane and her team in the office to Johnny in the Pro Shop was as warm and welcoming as I remember and given the winter green fee, a visit is terrific value and makes for a great day out at this time of year.
In summary, biased - probably, honest - definitely.
I like St Anne's Old Links, along with Fleetwood a good value traditional links in the area, but no way is it 5.5 balls. It is extremely flat with only vestigial dunes being at the signature last 3. Airfield next door, ponds, some green runway holes... Over rating a course is counter productive.
St Annes Old Links sits amongst distinguished guests along England's North West coast. It holds its own.
However, this is a different type of course compared to some of the big names in this part of the country. It is flatter and more expansive than its neighbours but is still a true test of your game and must be respected.
Like all links courses the wind can have a huge impact on the way a course plays. The routing of St. Annes Old Links does consist of 'two loops' of nine, bringing you back to the clubhouse at the halfway stage (more on that later) but many of the holes run in a similar direction, therefore, you are often faced with the same wind direction on a lot of the holes. The course has four par 3's and it is mostly these that run in a different direction to the longer holes.
I wasn't a huge fan of St. Annes Old Links when I played it for the first time over two decades ago. Over the years I've become more impressed with it after each visit and always look forward to my next round. There are some really well placed bunkers and you need to think your way round the course at times. It offers much to ponder whilst walking between shots. Trains regularly pass down the side of the 17th and 18th at regular intervals whilst a flurry of planes landing and taking off from bordering Blackpool airport can be seen. The backdrop of Blackpool Tower and the Big Dipper are visible on most of the holes too.
The main downside for me (even most of the best courses have one) is that on some of the holes you can be better off wider of the (well placed) fairway bunkers. Miss the hazards and you usually have a shot from the rough or an adjacent fairway. I suspect for national championships, of which the course hosts many, the rough will be more exacting but the fundamental principal remains the same.
The lack of sea views, huge dunes and rolling fairways may not appeal to some, others may not like the openness of looking across several fairways and a few may not appreciate the subtleties of the greens, however, as a test of golf it will examine every sinew of your game. Lovers of true links golf understand St. Annes Old Links.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
This review is not adjusted for value for money, which is undeniable in this mostly over priced area.
This is an honest old links course that is mostly flat, true running with firm greens that you can putt to from almost anywhere.
Nice 2 9's out and back layout with a stand out hole (9) that is as good as sadly it is out of character from the rest of the flattish course.
Good, honest, old style, unspectacular links golf well worth a game if you like this sort of thing (which I do!).
St Annes is a decent, honest links course set over some fairly flat land. It has some special holes, namely 9 & 10 that play in an around some heavy dunes and the long finishing holes will test you. All of the par 3s were very good but to be honest I can't recall a lot of the par 4s and I played last week. I know I didn't have any issues with conditioning, greens or design and I certainly didn't have any issues with price. Expecting to pay the advertised 50pd afternoon rate I instead got the half price, unadvertised twilight rate, an hour early. Many thanks to the pro who suggested this. So for VFM, as per the argument below, SAOL is a 7 baller along with Kings Links in Aberdeen which was 8pds and Birkdale is stripped back to 3 balls, but I don't consider cost so a strong 4 balls. The course is a rugged little course, kind of reminded me a bit of Panmure but not quite as gnarly or interesting. Warren from Australia
I think Hugh did read your review correctly - you gave the course a 6 ball rating and he simply said it's not worth that. He's right.
It's good that you call out value for money - it's important and useful info- but courses on this site should ideally be ranked purely on the quality of the golf course experience
I tend to agree with BB, value is an important consideration but if it is going to be a main criteria then Kings Links up at Aberdeen at 8 quid gets 6 balls. To me St Annes is good value and a strong 4 balls whether I played it for 30 pounds or 130.